The Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja has made an order freezing assets and funds totalling about N19billion, allegedly kept in 24 banks by a convicted former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche.
Justice Lateefat Okunnu made the order sequel to an August 17 application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) between the Federal Government on the one hand and Atuche and Ugo Anyanwu as first and defendants.
In June 2021, the judge had sentenced Atuche to a six-year jail term for the offence of stealing the sum of N25.7bn belonging to the bank.
Anyanwu, who served as his former Chief Financial Officer at the bank, was also sentenced alongside Atuche to a jail term of 4 years.
Justice Okunnu, while sentencing the duo, ordered that they should make a restitution of the N25.7b to the Federal Government to replace the funds stolen from the public to bail out the bank.
The EFCC’s Counsel, Snr Advocate of Nigeria, Kemi Pinheiro moved the exparte application to freeze the N19.1bn pursuant to sections 6(d), 20, 24, 26(1), 30 and 34(1) of the EFCC Act and sections 290, 294 and 297 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015.
In granting his prayers, Justice Okunnu held that “An order is made restraining the 1st Defendant (Atuche) whether by himself, or acting through the persons or entities listed or such other persons including but not limited to his family members or agents, from removing, alienating, disposing of, dealing with or diminishing the value of assets, proceeds of economic and financial crimes or otherwise in the name of the 1st Defendant…”
She noted that the assets or funds included those held indirectly by or for Atuche’s benefit, whether solely or jointly held, that is located in Nigeria or worldwide.
The judge further froze any bank account being run and operated by Atuche “personally or jointly, whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number: 22295357230 in any of the respondent banks to the tune of N19,178,253,050.00 only, pursuant to the Restitution Order made by this Honourable Court on the 16 day of June 2021.
She barred Atuche and his privies – including his lawyers – from presenting to the Respondent Banks any mandate or instruction for the withdrawal of any money and/or funds standing to the credit of any of their accounts to the tune of N19, 178, 253. 050.
In another order, she restrained the banks from honouring any such instruction from Atuche and his privies.
The judge added: “A mandatory order of injunction is made directing the named respondent banks to file within 48 hours of service of this Order of this Honourable Court on them returns of the Statements of Account of the 1st Defendant (personally or jointly) whether in his personal name or otherwise or with the Bank Verification Number: 22295357230 and the accounts of persons and entities listed in the afore mentioned Schedules A and B maintained with them . . .
“A further order is made directing service of the Order made herein on persons affected thereby including in particular, the persons and entities listed in Schedules A and B. by way of advertisement in either The Punch or Thisday or The Guardian newspaper.
The affected banks are, Access Bank Plc, Citi Bank Ltd, Ecobank Nigeria Ltd, Fidelity Bank Nigeria Plc, First Bank Of Nigeria Plc, First City Monument Bank and Globus Bank Ltd.
Others are Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Heritage Bank Ltd, Keystone Bank Ltd, Lotus Bank Ltd, Mainstreet Bank Plc, Polaris Bank Plc, Platinum Mortgage Bank Ltd, Providus Bank Ltd and Stanbic IBTC Nigeria Ltd.
The rest are Standard Chartered Bank, Sterling Bank Plc, Titan Trust Bank Ltd, Union Bank Of Nigeria Plc, United Bank For Africa Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Wema Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc
According to the EFCC, 15 persons were used as front by Atuche to launder the funds.
They are: Anthony Atuche, Emeka Patrick Atuche, Paul Okobi, Felix Oyiana, Moruf Kazeem Adisa, Olatunji Abiodun, Daniel Enebeli, Aina Olugbenga, Augustine Nwabueze, Omonua Benedict, Oliver King Nduaaron, Dr. Chris Ike Ogbechie, Mr. Murat Bektaslar, Attah Omataikpo Olukemi and Thomas Etuh.
The 22 firms in which Atuche has interest directly or indirectly, according to the EFCC, are Aqua Harvest Ltd, Hubmart Stores Limited, Hubmart Limited, Sapphire Capital Management Limited, Homeland Real Estate Company Limited, Malechi Foods Limited, Homeland Meridian Partners Limited, Promise Investment Limited, Temple Cottage Hotel Limited, Wegas Properties Project Limited, Buckhead Construction Limited, Claremount Management Services Limited, Afco Associates Limited, Platinum Capital Limited, Ghazali Yakubu Investment Limited, The Financial (Services) Company Limited, Venture Resources Limited, Elizabeth-A Company Limited, Signature Partners Limited, Purplepay Technologies Limited, Oakwood Asset Management Limited And Conesto Nigeria Limited.